Monday, December 17, 2007

Congress Releases Omnibus Appropriations Bill, Zeroes Out RRW and Cuts GNEP

Congress released today its joint House-Senate omnibus appropriations bill, the FY 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which zeroes out RRW and significantly cuts GNEP.

As noted in a summary from the House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, the bill “prohibits the development of a reliable replacement warhead until the President develops a strategic nuclear weapons plan to guide transformation and downsizing of the stockpile and nuclear weapons complex.”

The accompanying explanatory statement details this further:

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Strategy for the 21st Century. – The Congress agrees to the direction contained in the House and Senate reports requiring the Administration, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy, the Administrator of the NNSA, the Department of Defense, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Strategic Command, and the Intelligence Community, and other appropriate independent, non-government science and security advisory organizations, to develop and submit to the Congress a comprehensive nuclear weapons strategy for the 21st century.

Reliable Replacement Warhead. – The amended bill provides no funds for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW), as proposed by the House. As stated in both the House and Senate reports, Congress believes a new strategic nuclear deterrent mission assessment for the 21st century is required to define the associated stockpile requirements and determine the scope of the weapons complex modernization plans. The NNSA is directed to develop a long-term scientific capability roadmap for the national laboratories to be submitted to the Committees on Appropriations.

GNEP also took a significant hit. The bill funds the program at $179 million, $216 million below the President’s request, and roughly halfway between the House level ($120 million) and Senate level ($243 million). The House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, nevertheless, had some harsh words for “the controversial initiative.” In their summary, they state that “the project will cost tens of billions of dollars and last for decades, but it continues to raise concerns among scientists and has only weak support from industry.”

The bill also significantly increases funding for several key nuclear nonproliferation programs. Although the top-line figure is $1.7 billion, $14 million below the President’s request, total funding for the programs is increased by $534 million by transferring unrelated work to other accounts, resulting in a 50% increase over the President’s request.

The bill must still be voted on and is subject to floor amendments, meaning that these numbers may change, but any amendment that increases funding for RRW would likely be difficult to win. If the bill passes with the current funding levels for both RRW and GNEP intact and is signed by the President, it would represent a tremendous victory for the arms control community.

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